It has been 4 months since a Section 23 classroom was accidentally discovered by parents at St. Vincent de Paul. The Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board was not forthcoming with the existence of or any details on this program. The DPCDSB only provided information, communication, meetings, safety measures, and procedures when pressed by parents of the school.
The DPCDSB claimed that this program (for youth whose needs are so severe that they cannot be met by attending regular school) has been in existence for 20+ years. Yet, they had no safety or communication plan to parents or the community.
After much pressure from the community, the DPCDSB decided it would be prudent to do a review of the program. Unfortunately, they chose to do a self-review. Despite the Ministry of Education (Minister Laurel Broten) communicating to concerned citizens that it would weigh in on the review, there was no mention of the Ministry or Minister, and there was no clear contribution to the review, report, or presentation. After a 3 month review, a 6 page report was provided at last week’s DPCDSB meeting.
The School Board Trustees spent 45 minutes debating the pros and cons of a soccer/ football field for the only high school in the district without one. All that was requested was that it be moved to the top of the priority list for spending. By the trustees’ admission, this money was not likely to come anyway.
Ultimately, they voted against it. In contrast, there was less than 2 minutes spent by the trustees in debating, discussing or asking questions regarding the Section 23 review. Most of the 2 minutes was spent by a trustee thanking the Board for a great report.
It is worth noting that the DPCDSB mentioned several times (included in the report) that the plan was communicated to the St. Vincent de Paul School Council in June and that it was unfortunate that the School Council did not communicate it to the parents/community.
It is also worth noting that the concepts of budgets and spending came up in the presentation of the report. One can only hope that the primary driver for the decision to host Section 23 in active elementary schools was not a fiscal one. The best interest of the children at the 7 identified schools so far in the DPCDSB, as well as the youth in the Section 23 program, should be first and foremost.
Many of the parents of St. Vincent de Paul are dissatisfied with the tactics used by the DPCDSB in order to repress any concern with the poor communication, absence of safety protocol and age appropriateness of the Section 23 program, so much so, that after this report, parents have begun the process of registering their children at other schools/school boards.
The nature of the youth in the Section 23 program is transient. They can be housed in the school for a week, a month or a year, or any other amount of time. There are no guarantees, but having high risk teenagers moving in and out of an elementary school adds an unnecessary and extra element of risk.
I would like to thank the DPCDSB for providing attention to this very serious matter, and for the 163 visits that members of the DPCDSB have made to my web site since October. I appreciate the support.
In conclusion, it is no small task to get a school board to make a minor change, let alone admit they are wrong and reverse a decision. We were aware going in to this challenge that the DPCDSB had already made a decision and that there was perhaps a very slim chance they would reverse it. It was clear that despite an overwhelming majority of parents at St. Vincent de Paul wanting this program placed in an age appropriate facility, that the principal, the 2010-2011 school council and the school board were not interested in opening a transparent discussion.
The Section 23 program remains at all 7 elementary schools in the DPCDSB, with minor concessions made at St. Vincent de Paul around start and end times, as well as a door sensor to alert the principal if anyone is entering or exiting the Section 23 classroom.
Thank you to the parents that attended the meeting. Thank you to all the parents who made it evident that transparency and communication to parents is critical in order to foster a relationship of trust between parents and the school/school board.